Fifteen years after Please Kill Me was first published, we continue to meet people who say that our book changed their lives. Always curious about the why when and where, we wanted details. And who better to ask the hard questions than the guy we dedicated our book to, the Danny Fields, “the coolest guy in the room”?
When Danny was in Berlin for an exhibit of his photos at the Ramones Museum… Check out the Ramones Museum in Berlin where Danny Fields and Joscha met! Just click the photo above to go to “AT THE RAMONES MUSEUM: Hanging With Danny Fields.”
…he encountered a bright young man named Joscha Blankenburg, 20, (seen Mohawked in top photo at the age of 15), himself ein Berliner who was born a few years after the re-unification of Germany, which certainly qualifies him as innocent of the events re-counted in our book. He had grown up in a middle-class neighborhood with his father, a leader of the teacher’s union, his mother, a pharmacist, and a sister three years his senior. His parents listened to “60’s stuff,” like the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Dylan and the Rolling Stones, as well as classical music.
Last year, Joscha moved from Berlin to Hamburg, where he now studies at the celebrated art school, the Hochschule für bildende Künste. Joscha came to New York City for the first time in December of 2010 where Danny and writer Justin Skrakowski, 28, asked him how Please Kill Me changed his life.
Here’s how it went:
JUSTIN: So how old were when you got into Please Kill Me?
JOSCHA: I was fourteen and I had just started a new school; I didn’t want to stay at the school I was going to, because everyone was going to have to study classical Latin or Greek. Oh, and my history teacher had given me the Ramones Anthology CD collection, which was very cool of him, but I didn’t want to take Greek, so I changed schools.
So I show up at my new school with my long hair and Ramones shirt and the first thing this girl said to me was, “You look just as stupid as the Ramones.” And at first I was like, “Yeah?…Okay, I hate you, too.” But actually she was pretty cool. We became friends, and she gave me a copy of Please Kill Me for Christmas. I had never heard of it before.
JUSTIN: Did she give you the German translation?
JOSCHA: Yes, but now I have Please Kill Me in German and English. I read the German one first. I compare them a lot. I read English novels and watch movies in English, I listen to songs in English. The English Please Kill Me is better. Same with movies, once you get to know the original, translations sound like a hoax.
JUSTIN: So the girl who said you looked as stupid as the Ramones later gave you Please Kill Me?
JOSCHA: Yes, and I remember how I started reading it on the train on my way home and I was already, “Huh? What’s that?” I just started flipping through and stopping at random pages and it was like, “Okay! Well…” and then I remember one special passage that stuck with me. I think it was Wayne Kramer when he talked about how he and his friends went into the woods and were smoking weed and drinking alcohol and shooting guns—I mean, tell that to a fourteen year-old! I was like, “Ah, cool!”
JUSTIN: Did you real the whole book, or just pieces and passages?
JOSCHA: I didn’t read Please Kill Me all the way through at that time. Because between ages fifteen and sixteen I didn’t do anything but get wasted. And then I started reading again—at the time when I started going out and I was like, “Oh! This is cool, going to parties on the weekend,” and then you read the book about people doing that all of the time and you think, “Wow, that’s even cooler.” I loved the party of Handsome Dick Manitoba where he’s describing where they all wake up the next morning and it’s like in a war movie where the dust settles and you see the whole mess that happened.
JUSTIN: So Please Kill Me started working its way into your life?
JOSCHA: Oh yes, I remember when I was at home and I had to look for a job and I was going through all these ads and I had to write letters to apply—you know, it was the same thing with homework, when you have to do something or learn for an exam, and you sit there and think, “All right, I have to do this,” but you just can’t do it, so instead I started flipping through Please Kill Me thinking, “Why don’t I just live in one apartment with ten people and dress up and take speed the whole time?”
JUSTIN: Did you?
JUSTIN: Did you ever take speed?
JOSCHA: Not yet.
JUSTIN: How old were you when you first got drunk?
JUSTIN: Fourteen? After you read the book?
JOSCHA: No, before that, like—
JUSTIN: Well…how did Please Kill Me change your life? Other than sitting in Danny’s house right now?
JOSCHA: Well, at one point I was thinking about getting “Lust for Life” tattooed across my chest, because…it’s kind of a paradox, you know? Because I’m not really—you know you have all these people coming up to you and saying, “Oh, this and that is SO great!” and you’re just like, “Yeah, I wish I could think it’s as great as you say…”
For example, I have this female friend who keeps going on about how great travelling is and all the wonderful people she met who ate mushrooms with her and meditated for five minutes and it was so…horizon-broadening and great, and I’m just sitting there thinking, “What the…?” because basically, I’m not really enjoying life to the fullest and the day could be a lot more…pretty much I’m sick of everything. And so getting “Lust for Life” tattooed across your chest would be kind of funny I guess—
JUSTIN: You’re sick of everything?
JOSCHA: Kind of…I mean, Please Kill Me probably doesn’t put you in the right direction when you’re fourteen.
JUSTIN: Well, you’re in a pretty good direction now.
JOSCHA: You think so?
JUSTIN: Well, this is fun, right? How many of your friends are doing this? I mean, what are they doing? Drinking in a hostel right now?
JOSCHA: No…I mean, I have this one friend who just wrote me an email, because he took mushrooms, too, and he said when the mushrooms stopped working on him, he got this kind of reality flash, and he looked around his room—I’ve been in his flat and it’s totally shitty. Its on the ground floor and there isn’t any daylight, and I once went to visit him when it was really hot and I had a T-shirt on and I was sweating and he was sitting there in a sweatshirt with a flannel shirt over it, and a beanie, and was watching some crappy Star Wars digital series, and I was like, “How can you wear all that stuff? It’s hot as hell out there,” and he said, “Oh, is it?” Because he really couldn’t tell, he hadn’t even switched on the lights, and…sorry, what did you ask me?
JUSTIN: So this is better than doing that right now? Maybe? Yes?
JOSCHA: Yeah, sure. But to continue my story, when the mushrooms stopped working on him he was looking around his apartment and he said something like, “I can’t go on like this or I’ll be dead in a few years,” so…yeah. I don’t know what he changed exactly; I think he changed nothing about his life, but—
JUSTIN: Have you ever done mushrooms?
JOSCHA: No, I would never because when I smoke weed I totally start freaking out. So if I take mushrooms I think I’d get totally psychotic.
DANNY: [from other room]: Oh for Christ’s Sake! You just take a Xanax!
JOSCHA: Also I had friends who were like, “Oh! It was such a great experience!” and they talked about nothing else, and you know, “I saw this and that,” and I’d be like, “Yeah, but it wasn’t real,” and they’d say, “Yeah, but it was so fantastic.” It was so pathetic having all these people go on like LSD was God to them and when you see how all these punk people turn into these stupid, esoteric hippie chicks after that you think, “Huh? I really wish she hadn’t taken that.”
JUSTIN: Well you don’t have to become a hippie…
JOSCHA: Of course you don’t have to, but…I think many of my friends were predestined for it.
JUSTIN: Do you think the book had an affect on how you felt about drugs?
JOSCHA: Yes, I think so.
JUSTIN: How so?
JOSCHA: Um…like it got me away from this childhood thinking of “I’d never do that” and like this portrayal of drugs as completely horrible.
JUSTIN: They’re portrayed pretty bad though at some points in the book.
JOSCHA: Yeah, at some points but at the same time you read about all these fun people and you think, “They all took drugs!”
JUSTIN: You’ve never done cocaine or heroin or anything?
JUSTIN: That’s probably for the best.
JOSCHA: It’s probably partly due to all that Straight Edge stuff from sixteen to nineteen—where I thought, “I’m going to stop doing all that stuff to be able to cope better,” but then after some years I realized, “Okay, it’s much more boring and nothing gets better, so…”
JUSTIN: What? Through being Straight Edge?
JOSCHA: Yeah. And its not like the craziness vanishes or anything, it was just exactly the same just without drinking, so when you had a clear mind to think about everything it fucked you up much more, you know…
And drinking makes all of the boredom go away—you just run around and talk to people about random stuff which normally you would hate if you talked with people like that—I think I would never get to know anyone new if it wasn’t due to getting wasted. Because it’s always the same, you know, since school finished, everybody just asking you, “What are you doing?” and you’re supposed to say, “Oh I’m interested in blahblahblah and therefore I study this and…”
But as far as drugs go, I think I’ve never really done them because I’ve never gotten a chance to. Because I never thought, “I’m going to pay a shitload for cocaine or heroin,” but if someone was around who had it I’d probably take it.
JUSTIN: Do you think you’ll always have a “sick of everything” attitude?
JOSCHA: I’ve been trying hard to figure that out. It’s like, a friend of mine who tried to kill himself several times—
JUSTIN: Several times?
JOSCHA: Yeah, well, I think some of his attempts were for attention, but some were really meant seriously and it’s only because someone found him laying, bleeding in the fields…
JOSCHA: …and he told me he’s not interested in anything improving his life anymore, he’s only interested in something that can prove his point to the whole world.
JUSTIN: And that’s killing himself?
JOSCHA: No, more like full-on misanthropic—the way the world is total shit.
JUSTIN: What were the things you read after Please Kill Me? Because you said that you never really read books before, what did you read after that?
JOSCHA: Hmmm… I think it was probably Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski. Which was pretty funny because after a party I slept at a friend’s house, and then the next morning he was still asleep and I picked out this book from his shelf and—I had read it already—and the first sentence that sprung to my eyes was about him going on about his last suicide attempt, where he said he like, switched on the gas and laid down and then he realized that he kept his windows open, and then he said like, “Ah, well might as well stay alive.”
And then another friend of mine told me about a book and I accidentally found it on some shelf and flipped through it and I loved it from the first second. And it was also like I read all of these things the guy wrote and sometimes I thought, “Okay, I’m going to have to push this book aside for two weeks to actually be able to cope with anything.” There was this one passage about human relationships which totally tore the whole thing up and—
JOSCHA: Yeah! You’ve read it? I think it’s brilliant, but it doesn’t help you in any way. Do you remember this passage where he goes to his old girlfriend in America and there’s this servant and they pretend to have a bond the whole time, and he just goes on about how really they hate each other but how he wants to get money from her and she pretends to like him and there are all these dialogues and they feel totally frozen and they’re totally icy in dealing with each other? Well, I read this the morning before my friend had her birthday party and I thought, “Our relationship is exactly the same as that,” you know, we kissed once and now we talk here and there but it’s like, “Pfffffff,” and—it was the beginning of what was like a nervous breakdown—
JUSTIN: What happens during a nervous breakdown? Did you have to go to the hospital?
JOSCHA: No, it was not that far. It was actually—that passage of the book and a certain song became so heavy to me and I had to still live with my parents because I didn’t have the ambition to go look for a flat and I didn’t have the money for one anyway and…sometimes I got close to the point of telling my parents, “I can’t cope with myself anymore,” but I didn’t want them to know how I felt. It was just like being…you know when you can’t get comfortable in your sleep and you have weird dreams, and you just feel stressed out the whole next day, and I was running around and doing all these things and I thought, “If I stay at home and don’t do anything it will just go away,” and then I asked a friend of mine if I could visit him—he lived in the outskirts of Berlin—and I just went there and we got wasted for fourteen hours.
JUSTIN: Did you feel better?
JUSTIN: So how does this stuff help then?
JOSCHA: Which stuff?
JUSTIN: Like Céline, and all these books and things and—
JOSCHA: It doesn’t help at all.
JUSTIN: But you said you’re looking for something that helps, so—
JOSCHA: I’m trying to figure that out.
JUSTIN: So then why keep reading them?
JOSCHA: I don’t know.
JUSTIN: I mean, you could read happy stuff—
JOSCHA: Yes, but…I think all the great art is based on misery. I think writing is something you do because you have to express something…like Charles Bukowski; it was the only thing keeping him from committing suicide. And I think it’s great if somebody isn’t able to bear anything anymore and starts writing that down, but…it doesn’t help…
JUSTIN: So what does it do?
JOSCHA: Make you feel like you’re not alone…probably?
JUSTIN: What books did you read right after Céline, do you remember?
JOSCHA: I kept on not reading books until I was—kind of funny stuff because to be honest I don’t really remember how I read the whole Please Kill Me, you know? I remember that I read it at fourteen and was totally stoked on it…but I don’t really remember reading that book again. I don’t remember every passage, I was just reading it when I got home drunk and stoned and just flipping through, and it really had an impact on me, but I don’t know in which way that went.
JUSTIN: Well, name a passage that had an effect on you.
JOSCHA: Oh there were a lot. I liked all these passages about Iggy cutting himself.
JUSTIN: What was it like being a young punk in Berlin?
JOSCHA: Well, I remember one day very clearly. There used to be this battle between two Berlin districts Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain where they threw rotten food and puke and shit at each other just for the fun of it, and I got caught in it once…
JUSTIN: And you got shit thrown at you?
JOSCHA: Yeah, yeah—I had a spiked “punker” haircut, and I had my Iggy and the Stooges shirt on, and they threw shit and puke at me, and I went home—it was one of the very few times I was ever proud of anything—you know, walking home in a Stooges shirt, stinking, and my hair was totally covered in shit and puke, and I was like “Yeah!”
JUSTIN: Was this a Berlin thing?
JOSCHA: Yeah, it was a Berlin thing among punks, you know, and you had all these people…
JUSTIN: Doing what? Watching it??
JOSCHA: Yeah yeah, they stand there with their expensive beers watching it from a distance while all this shit and puke was being thrown, and they couldn’t do anything about it, they were just curious, you know…
DANNY: [Danny returns, cursing about laundry room] Goddamn dryer!
JUSTIN: Danny, did you know anything about this? These kids from different areas in Berlin threw puke and shit at each other…
DANNY: Whose puke and whose shit? Like dog shit?
JOSCHA: No no, their own shit.
DANNY: They pick up their own shit and throw it like GG Allin?
JOSCHA: Oh yes, their own shit.
DANNY: What an improvement over that American town on the TV news where once a year they throw flour at each other. Is it supposed to be bad, this shit throwing?
JOSCHA: I suppose nobody cared if all the punks got puke and shit on them, but the people who don’t want it just stand back and watch. They seemed to be enjoying it.
DANNY: Were there teams? Did they bring the shit with them?
JOSCHA: Oh yes, they pooped in plastic bags. And then threw the bags at the other side.
DANNY: Oh it’s like Secret Santa at the office on Christmas. But it can’t be a surprise if everybody’s been collecting it for months, and then these gift bags come flying. And their families have been saying, “Oh, that’s what he’s been doing for all these months in the bathroom!”
JUSTIN: Did you shit in a bag?
JOSCHA: No, but I was covered in the stuff they threw at me. I was proud of that. And if you’re in the middle of it, and you can go ten minutes without puking yourself, then you’re OK, you can cope with the whole thing.
JUSTIN: Did you puke?
JOSCHA: No no, but imagine a fifteen year old guy, walking down the street with shit in his hair in a Stooges shirt with puke and shit on it, and I remember being totally proud, one of the very few times I was proud of anything.
JUSTIN: Was it fun? How long did the fight last?
JOSCHA: The challenge was to chase the people back to their own district. There were these two districts, and they met in the middle of the bridge between them, and the point was to push the other guys back to their side.
JUSTIN: Were there cops there?
JOSCHA: Yeah, but they were waiting on the side of the team that got pushed back. When the cops saw that a fight was ending, they went to the side where the people were who had lost, and they’d be like “You! You! You have to clean up now!” And nobody wanted to do that, so they all ran away, they tried to escape just before the cops came.
JUSTIN: Did they arrest anybody?
JOSCHA: No, no, it was just this one event a month, and it was like “OK, let these people do whatever they want to do, it’s just them throwing shit and puke,” and the cops just wanted to get the whole place cleaned up.
JUSTIN: Did anybody punch anybody?
JOSCHA: No, they just threw things. One friend of mine got really mad, somebody threw a bag of rice, and it got in his eyes, and he was really upset. Wow, if I got rice in my pupils I don’t know how I’d react.
JUSTIN: It’s probably not as bad as getting puke in your pupils.
JOSCHA: Maybe. I think only shit can make you sick. Puke is still alright, kind of. I guess the shit has diseases in it… maybe.
JUSTIN: Did you go home after that?
JOSCHA: Yeah, I remember being in a train, and my friend said to someone, “We apologize for this gruesome smell of ours.”
JUSTIN: What did your parents say?
JOSCHA: Well, my mother looked at my Iggy Pop shirt, and she said, “Oh my God! What happened to you??” Because I was stinking heavily. And she said, “Well, you can forget about that shirt!” Because it had all kinds of stains on it. They’d never wash out. And I thought, OK, whatever, but how great was the memory of walking home with spiked hair all covered with shit! I was totally happy about the whole day, it was so cool. That’s my favorite memory. It’s kind of the definition of youth, walking home in a Stooges shirt covered in shit.